• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

THE 10th ANNIVERSARY BLOG

When this spec in cyberspace was unveiled for public viewing on July 10, 2006, I wrote that one of my goals was to "point out a few issues not discussed elsewhere. I'm one of those people who believe it's essential to keep learning and my wish is this blog will be a vehicle to stimulate thought for all of us in, or with an interest in, the industry."

To repeat: ". . . it's essential to keep learning . . . "

While sooooo much has happened and changed in the last decade, I must report with sincere sadness that what I am thinking about the most on this 10th anniversary is that way, Way, WAY too many aren't interested in learning. They are only interested in hearing or reading what echoes or reinforces their own opinion.

At least, that's the impression I get.

Never in history have we had so many different ways to communicate. At first thought, that seems like a great thing. But let's dig down a little deeper to HOW those ways of communicating are being used. In Big Time Auto Racing, at least, it sure seems to me an alarming percent is personal attacks and over-the-top negativity. (No doubt at least one someone will post a criticism of me for writing that last sentence -- proving my point.) So-called "fans" -- a good number who portray themselves as "experts" or "insiders" -- hide behind the anonymous shield provided by site hosts and rip away freely at those they disagree with.

Question: How does that foster LEARNING? 

Everyone with a smart phone now can take pictures and video and write and too many who should know better call this population "citizen journalists." That is flat-out bogus wrong. Taking a picture or a video or ripping someone isn't necessarily journalism and those who do it aren't necessarily journalists. That is a professional activity done primarily by those educated and trained in techniques and standards. Quick! Yes! I know, in the current generation, there are a lot of professional journalists who prefer to think of themselves as "personalities" -- ESPN's Around the Horn, the worst show on television -- being the showcase example. Too often opinion is presented as if fact. Standards? It seems in all areas of our society and our culture what is acceptable would have been considered garbage not all that long ago. Celebrity and entertainment have taken the place of professionalism and education.

Central to journalism is the role of an editor. I've had the pleasure of knowing, and working with, some very good ones in my career. Who edits the anonymous poster who personally attacks another with another point-of-view? Who checks for accuracy? Who adds context?

Some years ago there was a regular Internet site poster who I easily identified by his chosen online "name." Said poster would often tell of a positive meeting he just had at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or conversation with some motorsports Biggie. And these posts would always lead to others thanking him for sharing this "inside" info and "great news." I knew the person . . . the real person. The only meeting he was having was at the bottom of a vodka bottle. Oh, the countless lemmings who were duped. And who didn't stop and question why this person would give out supposedly confidential information from a closed-door meeting or private talk?  

I was late coming to Twitter -- I'm still not completely comfortable with it -- but did so at the urging of several people I respect. For someone like me, there is a business component to it, so I agree that is useful. But here's my experience: I've had people tell me they no longer follow me because I wrote something they DISAGREE with. And that is the massive problem at hand here: If you only consume information from outlets you like, how will you ever learn there just might well be more to the story, other data points that might actually CHANGE your opinion?

I've been personally attacked on Internet forums a few times. Not because my facts were wrong. Because the other party didn't agree with me. Mostly this has been from those still fighting the USAC-CART-IRL-Champ Car wars. I've been labeled a "CART guy" because I was that organization's first communications director. I've been labeled "pro IRL" because I worked on Arie Luyendyk's and Robby Gordon's Indy 500 programs. Yep, sure, it all makes sense. Nope, what it is is outright irresponsible and stupid. The writers should be embarrassed but, today, there no longer is shame.

When IndyCar returned to my home track, Phoenix International Raceway, earlier this year I wrote most of the stories for the Arizona Republic and by any objective measure personally accounted for at least a third of all coverage in this state. On the it's-not-a-good-day-unless-we-have-something-to-complain-about site, where I've been inaccurately blasted (but, hey, why worry about the facts?) many times, there wasn't a word from the haters about the effort and quality and knowledge and substance represented in that coverage. Oh, I think someone said the stories were "pretty good." The attackers couldn't be honest enough to acknowledge what was counter to their bias. I would say they should have asked Mark Miles and Jay Frye and Graham Rahal what they through about my stories, but I doubt some of the Internet "experts" know who Miles and Frye and Rahal are.

I actually learned something in doing all those stories that I believe will help me be even more effective next time. And I learned something about the Business and Politics of Racing while at Indy for my 38th Indianapolis 500 that I think will help me do better on that front, too.

Do you understand the problem here? I do and it worries the hell out of me.

That's why I say, in the last decade, the most significant development has been we have too many ways to communicate, giving too many uninformed people the ability to wrongly influence others. That is dangerous -- for everyone.

In that first blog, I wrote that this undertaking would be a "Great Adventure." In some important ways, I think it has. (The most significant example being my "Untenable" blog in the aftermath of Dan Wheldon's death, which accurately forecast the demise of Randy Bernard and the Las Vegas race. Weeks later, at the Sprint Cup awards, many NASCARites spoke to me about it.) Going forward, I would prefer this to be a "Great Adventure in Learning."

For that to happen, however, a lot of people will actually have to decide they will be open enough to WANT to learn right alongside of me. Or they will prefer to wallow in the laziness of ignorance.

I'd like to conclude by writing I think the next decade will be better.

I can't. The high-percentage bet is it all will get much, Much, MUCH worse. 

And we all will be endangered.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of  July 17:This week's 10 most influential
people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

   1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon -- If Junior can't race at the Brickyard this weekend due to concussion-like issues, Rick Hendrick says five-time Indy winner Gordon will emerge from retirement to drive the No. 88. 

   3. Donny Schatz -- Bags the $50,000-to-win Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway, his 15th win of the season, and opens an almost 200-point World of Outlaws lead over Brad Sweet. In American open-wheel short-track racing, the name to know is spelled S-C-H-A-T-Z.

   4. Tony Stewart-- Coming off successful tripleheader World of Outlaws at Eldora Speedway he owns and hosts NASCAR Trucks this Wednesday night. Oh, in his day job, Stewart bolsters his Chase place with second place at New Hampshire, and now on to the Brickyard for the last time, where he's a three-time winner.
   
 5. Dave Moody -- Properly blasts ESPN for not including Jeff Gordon in tribute to retired athletes at the ESPYs and his afternoon drive-time SiriusXM Channel 90 show remains THE place for NASCAR fans to sound off. Sometimes, Moody even sounds off at the fans.

  6. Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway president takes another swing at improving NASCAR attendance issues.
   
   7. Holly Cain -- Indy = Big Week for NASCAR.com with inspirational writer Cain on-site to bring fans the stories they want and need to know. 

   8. Jon Asher -- Drag racing's most influential journalist pens a column for CompetitonPlus.com calling on NHRA to end the troubled Pro Stock class.  

   9. Rahn Tobler -- Can tuner for Ron Capps' Funny Car championship-leading NAPA Dodge find the right high-altitude combination in Denver as NHRA begins its Western Swing? 

10. Nico Rosberg -- What will be his story with Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton this Sunday in the Hungarian Grand Prix? Will they try to take each other out -- again?

I'll be at the Brickyard this weekend for the NASCAR happenings. Whatever I find out you can read on Twitter @SpinDoctor500

more next week . . . ]